Israeli defense minister kicks off visit to Bahrain

February 2, 2022 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s defense minister on Wednesday began a trip to Bahrain, the first official visit by an Israeli defense chief since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 2020.

The two-day visit by Benny Gantz is scheduled to include meetings with top Bahrain defense officials and Bahraini leaders, the Israeli Defense Ministry said. There was no immediate confirmation of the visit from Bahrain, which like Israel, has great animosity toward Iran.

Gantz’s office said he was joined on the trip by a number of top Israeli security officials, including the commander of Israel’s navy. Bahrain is also the strategically located home port for the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Bahrain was among four Arab countries that joined the “Abraham Accords,” a series of diplomatic pacts with Israel brokered by the Trump administration.

For years, Israel and Bahrain maintained clandestine security ties, rooted in their concerns about Iran. Since the agreement, the countries have opened embassies, signed a series of agreements and established direct flights and business ties.

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Bahrain’s population is majority Shiite, and the country has been ruled since 1783 by the Sunni Al Khalifa family. Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Bahrain’s rulers have accused Tehran of arming militants and fomenting dissent on the island, something Iran denies.

Normalization with Israel remains a contentious issue for Bahrain’s Shiite majority, which long has accused the country’s Sunni Muslim rulers of treating them like second-class citizens.